You're sitting in a dark chilly arena in the late 1970’s, waiting to see some kid named Wayne Gretzky. The kid gets manhandled, with no points, providing no impact. You leave. Reporting back and you say that all the hype was worth nothing, the kid doesn't have what it takes. After one viewing. The next night, the ‘Great One’ would score six goals and dominate … but you weren’t there.
Sample size Matters.
This is the exact scenario to try to avoid, whether scouting a player, or using data.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs, a short term tournament are described in some circles to being driven by luck, which has merit and can be studied post hoc. Luck, in statistics, is a reference to non-repeatable events. The optics and first impression of the word luck attributes a sense of good fortune like pucks deflecting off player’s buttocks, when it’s actually randomness involved in scoring goals, influenced by the non-repeatable events. The unknown, unaccountable elements when strategizing against an opponent.
With one round in the books, there’s little predictive power in the data, it’s more situational or descriptive. There’s value while keeping in mind, it was very rare for Gretzky to go scoreless.
Strategically, teams adjust, they must as opponents change. Attempting to isolate something with such a small sample size is a challenge. So, while I’m trying to point to a trend, more context is required.
Since we have data to isolate shot attempts, I wanted to take a look at any early trends in Round 2, in comparison to Round 1. And there are some. Teams adjusted.
Scoring chances, and shot attempts are good indicators of team strategy at a macro level, and metrics are available to us currently, broken down into high, medium and low danger areas. Some intricate micro-stat tracking, would be exceptionally beneficial here, but we can work with what we have. Player tracking is going to be a boon if results can be mined in real time.
Data is provided by Natural Stat Trick and all at 5v5 unless otherwise stated. The black vertical line denotes the final game of Round 1.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were praised for their forechecking attributes against the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning. They fed off the aggressive structure that led to a definitive increase in high danger scoring chances by the time of the four-game sweep.
There’s a difference at the beginning of the Blue Jackets and Bruins series. Columbus has increased their low danger shot attempts, and medium danger, with only a small dip in high danger situations – until Game 3. They continue to press the Bruins, matching their type of grinding and aggressive structures. A defining trait against the Lightning was how the forecheck pressured puck carriers and led to turnovers and scoring opportunities. Skilled Tampa Bay players tried to attract pressure to create space, but found the torrent too much. It was suffocating and trouble from Lightning was self-inflicted.
Boston has yet to allow a goal from the high danger scoring area in Round 2, an area Columbus can look to improve moving forward.
The peak is due to an overtime game Saturday night where Boston seemed to favor the low danger shot attempt, looking for rebounds and getting traffic in front. Boston will find it tough to get much by Sergei Bobrovsky if he can see it, or if the shooting involves distance where he can set up. Traffic, tips and rebounds would be the norm. However, even with a slight improvement in Game 3, Boston hasn’t generated much from the high danger areas, but have scored from there in all but two playoff games – both against the Leafs. They’re not getting much scoring from medium or low danger areas. Special teams may become the difference here.
The Hurricanes peaked firing low danger shot attempts in Game 7 against the Capitals during an 83-minute period on ice including overtime. Returned back to range against the Islanders, while finding it more difficult to get into high danger areas and firing more from medium danger areas, where they finally had one goal in Game 2, breaking a six-game drought, firing 7.41%. They’ve been deadly from high danger scoring areas too, scoring in every game except for a 6-0 drubbing from Round 1 and Game 1 against New York.
The Canes have led in Goals For% in every game aside from Games 2 and 5 in Round 1, while staying fairly true to their expected goals.
There’s a steadiness to the Islanders efficiency this postseason that isn’t mirrored among the other Conference Finalists. They’ve been consistent in their medium danger shot attempts, while not scoring very well, with one goal in Game 3 of Round 1. They’ve hit a 4.76% shooting percentage from medium range, and a paltry 10.37% from high danger scoring areas. The Islanders haven’t scored a goal at 5v5 versus Carolina, after scoring two or more in every game against the Penguins. So while the shot attempts from different danger areas has been consistently best from medium range, they have to generate more and score better overall at even strength to have a sniff of winning this round.
The Avs fell 2-1 in the series after a 4-2 loss in Game 3. It was the only other game (Game 1 versus Calgary) where the Avalanche failed to dominate in the scoring chance differential, dominating between Game 2 of Round 1 and Game 2 versus the Sharks. Colorado has underperformed their average xGF (2.27) in the postseason, averaging 1.75 goals for. As the chart shows, they’ve been dipping in medium danger shots, while getting an 8.61% shooting percentage. The same dip in high danger shot attempts can be attributed to the 9.04% shooting percentage accuracy from those areas. Overall, the Avalanche are firing at an abysmal 5.9% at 5v5, special teams may become the deciding factor for Colorado to advance.
With the talent on the blueline, maybe it was misguided to expect better production from low danger areas. Getting in close and dominating high danger areas is the club’s modus operandi, scoring in all but two playoff games, with an exceptional 20.3% shooting percentage. The upslope in high danger shooting in Round 2 falls off a cliff between Game 1 and Game 3 in high danger shot attempts balanced by an increase in medium and low attempts. They’ve scored from those areas in three playoff games. San Jose has yet to score a goal at 5v4 in 13.5 minutes, an area they will have to get going if the Avalanche snuff out high danger area attempts, the Sharks could struggle to find adequate scoring.
Dallas isn’t finding it as easy to apply their high pressure forecheck against the Blues as they executed against the Predators. The spike in Game 6 versus Nashville was due to 66 minutes of 5v5 time in an overtime thriller. Still, the pressure the Stars applied to the Predators blueline hasn’t been as effective against the Blues defenders and its shows. They’ve scored only once at 5v5 in each of the first three games of Round 2, underperforming their expected goals, after scoring two or more in five of the six games in Round 1. Game 3 with a wild finish saw the Stars make a better effort at medium shot attempts, despite not scoring a goal from the medium areas since Game 1.
St. Louis Blues
With goals from high danger scoring areas fairly frequently this postseason, the Blues are firing 14.5%, mimicking the characteristic that turned their season around in January. Give Jordan Binnington the credit for providing stability between the pipes, but the Blues seem to understand that success comes from getting close to the net. Dallas is allowing them to buzz around the net and the Blues will take that. Take note of the declining shot attempts from low danger areas, yet they’ve had some success with these shots, notable the fluttering goal to give the Blues the 3-2 lead late in the third period in Game 3.